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Utah should set 80%-by-2050 emissions reduction goal, report finds

To improve air quality and address climate change, Utah should set a goal this year of reducing its carbon dioxide emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, according to the recommendations in a draft report drawn up at the request of the state legislature.

Issued by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, the draft carbon emissions-reduction "roadmap" endorsed incremental reduction goals of 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, both below 2005 levels. Salt Lake City, the most populous city in Utah and also the state capitol, resolved in 2019 to reach an 80% reduction in community greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, compared to 2009 levels, and to hit a goal of 100% renewable energy for the community's electricity supply by 2030.

"Projected population and economic growth means that reducing Utah's air emissions — and the alphabet soup of pollutants and gases they contain — is more urgent than ever to ensure that quality of life in the Beehive State remains high," the report's authors noted.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert already has set a goal to reduce annual statewide per-capita emissions 25% by 2026, as part of a strategy known as the Utah Life Elevated 2020 Initiative.

According to the report, Utah emits 19.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita annually, while the U.S. average is 16 metric tons per capita. The amount of coal-fired electricity production in Utah largely is responsible for driving up those per-capita emissions, the report said.

"Measured by CO2 emissions of different fuel types, Utah is nearly twice as reliant on coal as other states," the report's authors wrote.

In the next few decades, a number of coal-fired facilities in the state are slated to close.

In May 2017, Intermountain Power Agency announced that its two-unit, 1,800-MW Intermountain Power Project, operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power would be replaced in 2025 by 1,200 MW of natural gas generation at the same site. However, the department backed a plan in June 2018 to reduce the size of the replacement gas generation to 840 MW to make room for more renewables.

PacifiCorp, which serves customers in Idaho and Wyoming as well as in Utah, intends to retire 16 of its 24 coal plant units over the next decade and add over 7,000 MW of solar, wind and energy storage. The utility outlined the plan in its preferred energy resource plan, announced Oct. 3, 2019.

And the 458-MW Bonanza coal-fired power plant, primarily owned by Deseret Generation And Transmission Cooperative, potentially will cease operations in Uintah County once it reaches a total coal burn of 20 million tons after 2020, which is predicted to occur by 2030.

The report also recommended that legislators "establish and fund a premier state-level air quality/changing climate research solutions laboratory" to advance new technologies, among other goals. It also suggested expanding the electric vehicle network and targeting related incentives toward low- and middle-income Utahn households, as well as enhancing energy efficiency in buildings and preserving open space.

The state Senate appropriated $200,000 for the air quality and climate research study during the 2019 general session.

The draft recommendations report will be available for public comment through Jan. 27. The institute will deliver a final version to the state legislature on Jan. 31. Natalie Gochnour, the director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, did not immediately respond to interview requests.